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Early history

The celebrated Neolithic culture of Hemudu inhabited Yuyao, an area (now a city) 100 kilometers south-east of Hangzhou, as far back as seven thousand years ago when

Pottery of the Liangzhu culture

rice was first cultivated in southeastern China. The area immediately surrounding the modern city of Hangzhou was inhabited five thousand years ago by the Liangzhu culture, so named for the small town of Liangzhu not far to the northwest of Hangzhou where the ancient jade carving civilization was first discovered.
The city of Hangzhou was founded during the Qin Dynasty as Qiantang County (Chinese: 钱塘县). In AD 589, the city was renamed "Hangzhou", literally meaning "River-ferrying Prefecture",[3] and a city wall was constructed two years later. It is listed as one of the Seven Ancient Capitals of China. Hangzhou is at the southern end of China's Grand Canal which extends to Beijing. The canal evolved over centuries but reached its full length by 609. It was the capital of the Wuyue Kingdom from 907 to 978 during the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Period. Named Xifu at the time, it was one of the three great centers of culture in southern China during the tenth century, along with Nanjing and Chengdu. Leaders of Wuyue were noted patrons of the arts, and especially of Buddhism and associated temple architecture and artwork. It also became a cosmopolitan center, drawing scholars from throughout China and conducting diplomacy not only with neighboring Chinese states, but also with Japan, Korea, and the Khitan Liao Dynasty.

Foreign community
Arab merchants lived in Hangzhou during the Song dynasty, due to the fact that the ocean going trade passsages took precedence over land trade during this time.[4]

Statue of Marco Polo
There were also Arabic inscriptions from the 1200s and 1300s. During the Yuan dynasty, Muslims were persecuted through the banning of their traditions, and they participated in revolts against the Mongols.[5] The Fenghuangshi mosque was constructed by an Egyptian trader who moved to Hangzhou.[6] Ibn Battuta is known to have visited the city of Hangzhou in the year 1345; he noted its charm and described how the city sat on a beautiful lake and was surrounded by gentle green hills.[7] During his stay at Hangzhou, he was particularly impressed by the large number of well-crafted and well-painted Chinese wooden ships with colored sails and silk awnings assembling in the canals later he attends a banquet of the Yuan Mongol administrator of the city named Qurtai, who according to Ibn Battuta, was very fond of the skills of local Chinese conjurers.[8]
Hangzhou depicted in a French illumination from 1412

Southern Song

The Liuhe Pagoda of Hangzhou, built in 1165 during the Song Dynasty.

Hangzhou was chosen as the new capital of the Southern Song Dynasty when they regrouped after their defeat at the hands of the Jin in 1123.[9] It remained the capital from the early 12th century until the Mongol invasion of 1276, and was known as Lin'an (臨安). It served as the seat of the imperial government, a center of trade and entertainment, and the nexus of the main branches of the civil service. During that time, the city was a sort of gravitational center of Chinese civilization: what used to be considered "central China" in the north was taken by the Jin, an ethnic minority dynasty ruled by Jurchens.Hangzhou is at the southern end of China's Grand Canal which extends to Beijing. The canal evolved over centuries but reached its full length by 609.It was the capital of the Wuyue Kingdom from 907 to 978 during the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Period. Named Xifu at the time, it was one of the three great centers of culture in southern China during the tenth century, along with Nanjing and Chengdu. Leaders of Wuyue were noted patrons of the arts, and especially of Buddhism and associated temple architecture and artwork. It also became a cosmopolitan center, drawing scholars from throughout China and conducting diplomacy not only with neighboring Chinese states, but also with Japan, Korea, and the Khitan Liao Dynasty.
During the Southern Song Dynasty, commercial expansion, an influx of refugees from the conquered north, and the growth of the official and military establishments, led to a corresponding population increase and the city developed well outside its 9th century ramparts. According to the Encyclopædia Britannica, Hangzhou had a population of over 2 million at that time, while historian Jacques Gernet has estimated that the population of Hangzhou numbered well over one million by 1276. (Official Chinese census figures from the year 1270 listed some 186,330 families in residence and probably failed to count non-residents and soldiers.) It is believed that Hangzhou was the largest city in the world from 1180 to 1315 and from 1348 to 1358.

The city of Hangzhou was besieged and captured by the advancing Mongol armies of Kublai Khan in 1276, three years before the final collapse of the empire. The capital of the new Yuan Dynasty was established in the city of Dadu (Beijing).

The Venetian merchant Marco Polo supposedly visited Hangzhou in the late 13th century. His book refers to the city as "beyond dispute the finest and the noblest in the world." He called the city Kinsay (or Kinsai) which simply means "capital" in Chinese (actually Polo used a Persianized version of the word). Although he exaggerated that the city was over one hundred miles in diameter and had 12,000 stone bridges, he still presented elegant prose about the country: "The number and wealth of the merchants, and the amount of goods that passed through their hands, was so enormous that no man could form a just estimate thereof."

The renowned 14th century Moroccan explorer Ibn Battuta said it was "the biggest city I have ever seen on the face of the earth."


Ming and after

Hangzhou city gate in 1906

The city remained an important port until the middle of the Ming Dynasty era when its harbor slowly silted up.
In 1856 and 1860, the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom occupied Hangzhou and caused heavy damage to the city.
Hangzhou was ruled by Republic of China government under the Kuomintang from 1928 to 1949. On May 3, 1949, the People's Liberation Army entered Hangzhou and the city came under Communist control. After Deng Xiaoping's reformist policies began in 1978, Hangzhou took advantage of being situated in the Yangtze River Delta to bolster its development. It is now one of China's most prosperous major cities.

   
         
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